Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Architecture and Morality

Often heralded as one of their best, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark‘s third album Architecture and Morality first appeared an astonishing 35 years ago this week. Which seems a good excuse to reappraise it.

The opening track is The New Stone Age, which, after a few daft noises at the beginning, is driven primarily by a clicking sound, no doubt taking inspiration from Radioactivity. The track as a whole is experimental and a bit noisy, but entirely appropriate for the concrete Architecture implied by the title of both the song and the album, and also the artwork.

Unlike the subsequent album Dazzle Ships (1983), this album is not purely experimental, as second track She’s Leaving proves. It’s a typically great pop song, with a rawness not heard since the early OMD demos, but it’s definitely overshadowed by lead single Souvenir, which is clearly fantastic.

The interesting thing about Souvenir is that it’s sung by Paul Humphreys rather than Andy McCluskey – in fact, McCluskey wasn’t involved in the writing or singing, and apparently didn’t even like the song much, which proves that it’s good to have more than one member in a band – it seems pretty clear 35 year later that this is far and away the best thing on this album.

Side A ends with OMD‘s longest track to date, the drifting half-instrumental Sealand. By releasing three albums in less than two years, OMD had already proven themselves in need of a bit of editorial control, and it would be easy to criticise this track as being a bit superfluous as well. It’s definitely pleasant, but it might have been better saved for the b-side of a 12″ single.

Statistically, the majority of OMD‘s songs about Joan of Arc are on this album, with Joan of Arc first, and then Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans), or Maid of Orleans (The Waltz Joan of Arc) next. Both were big hits, arguably bigger than they deserved to be, but they’re decent songs – in my opinion, the latter more than the former.

After that you find yourself more than a little disappointed that the entire second half of the album isn’t devoted to songs about Joan of Arc, but instead you get the title track, which is an appropriately bleak instrumental piece built around high-pitched chimes and deep choral sounds that combines to make something that’s actually rather good.

By this stage, you might as well have given up on the “concept” of the album completely – OMD definitely had. Georgia is a pleasant plinky plonky piece, sounding entirely of the era, and then we’re onto the closing track The Beginning and the End already. As with several of the tracks on here, I had little memory of it, and assumed from the start that it was going to be an instrumental, but it’s not. It’s atmospheric and pleasant, although I’m not convinced it actually needs the vocals. But why not?

So is Architecture and Morality‘s reputation as one of OMD‘s finest works justified? Well, it’s possible. They had definitely matured by this stage, and were proving themselves extremely capable. It’s far from perfect – in fact, apart from Souvenir, the artwork might be the best thing about it – but it does contain three very successful hit singles, and a couple of other pleasant moments too. As a minimum, it’s worth giving it a listen every time it hits a significant anniversary – such as right now.

The remastered version of Architecture and Morality is still widely available, and gets you nearly an album’s worth of bonus material and an optional DVD.

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